Warning! Spoilers for His Dark Materials ahead!
The story so far: The first season of His Dark Materials is nearing its end. We have watched Lyra go from precocious child to a cunning planner in the quest to search for her missing friend Roger. Joining forces with the Gyptians, Lee Scoresby, and Iorek Byrnison, Lyra successfully saved Roger and destroyed Bolvangar, the place where children were being kept and mutilated. However, Lyra is not the only brave child, in another world, Will Parry lives to help his emotionally disturbed mother. His mother is prone to paranoia and often insists on seeing things that aren’t there. Lord Boreal has been keeping an eye on them, with a very specific mission on his mind.
The seventh episode of His Dark Materials picks up in the aftermath of the battle at Bolvangar. Filled with ominous settings and over the top performances, “The Fight to the Death” will certainly leave its mark on viewers for numerous reasons. Highly suspenseful and unequivocally eerie, characters who have already asserted themselves as deranged prove to be much more villainous than even they would have perceived. In a series that deals with kidnapping and child murders, ‘The Fight to the Death’ is the most disturbing episode of the season.
Otto Bathurst, who also directed the episodes ‘Armour’ and ‘The Lost Boy’, starts the episode with a shot of Mrs. Coulter staring out on the wreckage of Bolvangar through a square frame. The framing of the shot adds to the dreadful feel of the episode. This is later used in the middle when Mrs. Coulter reappears, setting up a foreshadowing of the menacing tone that is prevalent in the seventh installment. The tone is also magnified by the sparse scenery in Bolvangar and once again when a new location is introduced.
A new palace makes an appearance in this episode with large open halls and limited decoration. The most outstanding detail in this place is that the path is drenched in blood. These are very simple touches, but overall give a very macabre effect.
The performances contribute greatly to the tension of ‘The Fight to the Death.’ As the title promises, a fight is established, and the actors involved do an immense job of carrying out the danger of this scene. There is an excellent use of special effects, however the battle seems a little too easily resolved, creating an odd shift in pace for the episode.
Ruth Wilson continues to outdo herself in her villainous character of Mrs. Coulter. Exuding both elegance and a primal violence, Wilson gives a ghoulish performance that makes her enjoyable in each scene and her absence is felt when she is not on screen. Nina Sosanya, who plays an Elaine Parry, gives a great performance each time. There is a scene between Elaine and Lord Boreal that is notable due to Sosanya’s portrayal of a woman not only afraid of herself but of strangers as she responds to Ariyon Bakare’s dangerous presence.
The penultimate episode ends with more questions and even creepier performances as Lyra and Roger realize that only bigger trouble lies ahead. If ‘The Fight to the Death’ is setting up such a sinister tone, one can only guess the darkness that awaits viewers in the finale.